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Minimizing the Halo Effect Disconnect in Healthcare: Part 1 –Patient Expectation vs. Patient Reality

illustration of a female provider coming out of computer ad with halo over her head

For obvious reasons, patients gravitate to world-renowned providers. Before healthcare advertising became the norm, many of us never dreamed that these iconic brands would be pitching us on television and digital ads to become their patients. Not long ago, I wondered whether – if needed – my family or I could get admitted to one of these top providers without something similar to a “varsity blues” admissions strategy.

But the elephant in the room is that healthcare is a business, and in most cases, the hushed word is “profit.”

So hospital management and their marketing teams started using terms like competitive advantage and profit margins more freely to build messages that would result in more patients for high-margin procedures.

Enter the pandemic, where highly profitable elective surgeries went on hiatus for months and sometimes years. Coupled with costly long-term COVID care, investments in telemedicine, and the virtual shutdown of many profitable wards that did not meet social distancing, sanitization, and patient isolation standards — many hospitals suffered at least 11 months of what they called “negative operating profits,” otherwise known as losses.

As with any industry, advertising heightens customer expectations, trust, and demand. And we find that these healthcare providers have a “Halo Effect” or the cognitive tendency to use only one positive element to make a decision. And with that, the patient prospects become the target of “omnichannel” marketing programs, including postal, broadcast, and digital media.

I knew I was not alone when I noticed a handful of top-tier providers targeting me online recently. It was as if Harvard, Yale, and MIT were recruiting me with a 2.8-grade point average. But hey, if you want me for an ACL arthroplasty or a heart valve procedure, I’m honored to be “chosen” by your premier institution!

But unlike other businesses, healthcare providers must conduct patient satisfaction surveys to guarantee reimbursement from insurers and government entities. Many of these survey instruments include a key question related to the willingness of a patient to recommend a company’s products or services to others, otherwise known as a Net Promoter Score.

This metric can be the first indicator of a “halo-tarnisher” or, in some cases, an unexpected “halo-enhancer.”

Many providers I’ve worked with have found a shocking disconnect between the patient’s perception before admission and at discharge. What surprised me the most was the degree of the disconnect for some of the top providers in the world. A survey where only 40% of the patients felt that their halo effect instinct was accurate was not unusual.

I’m not a data scientist, but one could argue that the chances for 40% of patients to have lukewarm experiences would be more common if the bar was set unusually high. This is opposed to “Ace Healthcare,” where patients come in with little to no expectations, and the organization can exceed expectations dramatically.

That being said, perhaps half of your “client base” may not promote your healthcare services despite your (halo) reputation or self-perception. In part two of this series, we will explore five strategies in healthcare that can bring the halo effect and reality in sync.

For more insights on Leadership, Patient Experience, Hospital@Home, Burnout, and Equity, log into the ICD Healthcare Network.

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